Joan Walsh on Scalia’s selective view of the 14th amendment

You’ve probably heard that Scalia recently claimed the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to women. Here’s an excellent response from Joan Walsh:

Of course, in 1971 the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that it does protect women from discrimination, and that interpretation has never been, and still is not, in peril. Scalia appears to be turning into a crank. Here’s what he told California Lawyer:

In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don’t think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation….The only issue is whether it prohibits [sex discrimination]. It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that.

If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don’t need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.

It wouldn’t just be women who’d lose their right to equal protection if we took Scalia’s view: If we believe the 14th Amendment only existed to give black former slaves as well as free black their full citizenship rights – a long-overdue and worthy goal, by the way — then it doesn’t apply to Jews, Latinos, Asians, or for that matter, black women. I’ve got to say I’m glad Scalia admits that black men have some rights – I’m a glass half-full kind of person — but it seems a shame to leave out black women…and the rest of us…

What’s most preposterous is that Scalia was part of the most shameful and flagrantly political use – it was abuse, really — of the 14th Amendment in Supreme Court history, when he joined the majority in the Bush vs. Gore decision and stopped the Florida recount, brazenly using “equal protection” as one of the cornerstones. The pro-Bush SCOTUS majority argued that the white, wealthy George W. Bush would have his rights violated if if Florida counties used different procedures to recount votes and, in cases of some ballots, divine voter intent. Now, if Scalia really thought the 14th amendment only intended to make former slaves full citizens, he should have applied it to make sure black voters and black votes were treated fairly in Florida (and in fact, we know they were not.) What a joke.

Remember, it’s also Scalia the strict originalist, who insists we can’t interpret the Constitution’s authors in light of radically changed circumstances, who has taken the lead in giving “corporations” personhood rights, ruling in Citizens United that campaign-finance laws violated their speech rights under the First Amendment. “Corporations” weren’t mentioned by the writers of the Constitution or any of it’s amendments; I guess originalism has its limits, where the rights of the wealthy are concerned.

CFP: Bias

A CFP, and an announcement of a new series of workshops that will be of interest to FP readers…







25 – 26th August 2011, Berlin


Louise Antony (University of Massachusetts, Amherts, USA)

Jennifer Saul (University of Sheffield, UK)

The concept of bias has played a key role in shaping feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. It is not, however, an uncontested concept. Feminist philosophers disagree amongst themselves on how the concept should be understood, and whether bias is inevitable. They further disagree on how feminists should respond to and deal with bias. For instance, are biases always detrimental to our knowledge seeking activities? Or, can certain explicit biases (like feminist and anti-racist ones) make our epistemic practices more robustly truth-seeking?

More recently, political and ethical discussions have started making use of the concept of bias. Both philosophers and psychologists alike have begun examining certain sorts of widespread implicit biases about members of stigmatised social groups. The holders of these biases are generally unaware of them, and often have sincere and explicit egalitarian beliefs. On one understanding, implicit biases are unconscious prejudices that unduly affect our ways of both positively and negatively perceiving, evaluating, and interacting with others. The recognition and analysis of such biases has wide-ranging consequences for feminist philosophy and politics, as well as for every other movement seeking social justice. Implicit biases may explain why members of particular groups still find it hard to ‘make it’, despite the lack of overt obstacles to positions of power and authority.

Given its centrality to a number of feminist debates, this conference examines the notion of bias (broadly conceived). We invite submissions on the following suggested topics:

* How should we understand bias, both explicit and implicit? Should these phenomena both be called ‘biases’ or should a clearer conceptual distinction be drawn?
* What is the upshot and impact of implicit biases on feminist epistemological analyses? Does the existence of bias (in general) suggest that feminists should naturalise epistemology? What political benefits (if any) would such naturalised approaches have?
* Is implicit bias ubiquitous and does it always unduly affect our evaluations of others? Can implicit biases help us get things right? How should feminists respond to implicit biases?
* How does the existence of implicit bias affect other politically and morally important notions like those of justice, collective action and responsibility? If implicit bias is ubiquitous and ineradicable, can we hold people morally responsible for their views and/or conduct?

Our discussion is not, however, limited to these topics. Furthermore, although the focus of the event is on bias relevant to specifically feminist analyses, we welcome philosophical work on bias that is relevant to other analyses as well.

This conference also serves as the inaugural event for the new Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Symposium Series Feminist Philosophy and…. It will be followed by bi-annual further events on topics relevant and of interest to feminist philosophers and all philosophers working on issues to do with social justice. Planned future topics include Feminist Philosophy and: Gender, Pornography, Race, Sex Work.

Please email FULL PAPERS suitable for anonymous review of around 3,500 words (to be delivered in 30 min followed by 15-20 min of discussion) by 31st MARCH 2011 to Mari Mikkola ( with the subject title ‘BIAS SUBMISSION’. (PDF submissions are preferred.) Notification of acceptance will be send around 31st of May 2011. We hope to be able to provide postgraduate and unwaged travel bursaries for accepted papers.